RANGOON— About 300 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Shan State’s Kyaythee Township plan to submit a petition asking the Burmese Army to withdraw from their village, which troops have occupied since clashes with Shan rebels broke out more than one month ago.
Hla Shwe Thein, who is a committee member for the ethnic Shan IDPs in Tar Pha Saung village, told The Irrawaddy that all of those displaced wanted to go back to their homes, but were afraid to return because the military had set up a base there. The signature campaign is urging the Union and state governments to order the army to completely vacate the village.
“We collected around 300 signatures from the refugees. … We will send it to the Shan State government and Union government, and President Thein Sein, and [military commander-in-chief] Min Aung Hlaing,” Hla Shwe Thein told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
He said the villagers did not dare return with the army presence, which now includes defensive bunkers dug since the villagers fled. Troops have taken up residence in the villagers’ homes, he added.
The 300 IDPs have been staying at a Buddhist monastery since shortly after the fighting between the Burmese Army and Shan State Army-North broke out in late June.
Another clash between government troops and the SSA-North rebels took place on Aug. 8, according to local sources, forcing another 40 IDPs to seek refuge at the monastery. Since then conditions in the area have become more stable, leading the villagers to consider returning to their homes—but not while the military remains.
“The Burmese Army told them [the displaced villagers] to come back, but they do not dare to stay together with the army, and therefore they have not returned to their houses,” said Sai Hlaing Khan, who is chairman of the Shan National League for Democracy’s Kyaythee Township branch.
Exacerbating the anxieties of the homeless villagers are concerns that they may not have enough food to eat in the future because their displacement prevented them from planting crops during this year’s rainy season. The villagers hope to return to their homes in time to plant, but the window of opportunity to do so is shrinking.
The Burmese Army and SSA-North have occasionally clashed despite the two sides having signed a ceasefire agreement in January 2012. SSA-North leaders have claimed that the fighting has been due to Burmese Army encroachment in the rebel armed group’s area of control.